Pakistan polls: Post results, what are likely scenarios for parties?

— No party appears to have gained clear majority to form government on its own

KARACHI: With votes still being counted after Thursday’s crucial general election, there are strong prospects of a hung parliament with the mainstream political parties left with a few options.

Initial results show a close contest between the independent candidates backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The centre-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stands third.

Three case scenarios

Although Nawaz Sharif had been touted as the frontrunner for the coveted post of prime minister, the unexpected results in favour of the PTI, have left him with limited options.

The results suggest that his party cannot single-handedly form the government, and will have to seek a coalition to do so.

His first choice will understandably be the PPP, which was a key partner in the last PML-N-led Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition government.

However, strong criticism of the Sharifs by the PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during his election campaign has cast a shadow over the possibility of an alliance between the two parties.

“This indeed looks difficult considering Bilawal’s recent criticism of Sharif, but both parties are pragmatic, and, in my opinion, will seriously consider the option,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political commentator, told Anadolu.

Alleging that Nawaz Sharif toed “anti-people” policies during his three previous tenures, Bilawal said during the pre-elections campaign that it was “impossible” for his party to forge an alliance with the PML (N).

A party — or an alliance or coalition — needs a simple majority of 169 seats in the 336-seat parliament to form the national government.

“There is a zero possibility of an alliance between the PTI and the PML-N,” he opined, referring to the old rivalry between the two parties.

The PTI, for its part, claims it is in a position to form the governments at the federal level, and in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

However, according to some constitutional experts, since its candidates have contested elections as independents and without a uniform election symbol following a cumbersome legal battle, they “cannot form the government without being merged into a party.”

The party has already lost its share of reserved seats for women and religious minorities after losing its election symbol – the bat.

It means, they need to join or forge an alliance with a party to form the government both in center and the provinces.

Oves Anwar, director of the Islamabad-based Research Society of International Law, nonetheless said he “does not see any problem” in independent candidates forming a government.

“There is no legal issue as independents can create a coalition or form national unity government with other smaller parties,” Anwar told Anadolu.

Another possible scenario could be that the PPP and the PTI-backed independent candidates join hands and form the government — a scenario also hinted at by Bilawal during his pre-election campaign.

But Ali opined a coalition between PML-N, the PPP and some other regional and religio-political parties was “most likely.”

‘PML-N to form government’

The PML-N claims that it was in a “position to form the government.”

“Insha’Allah (God willing), the PML-N will form the governments both in centre and Punjab (province) as it has emerged as the majority party,” party spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb said on X.

She said that Nawaz Sharif will make a victory speech “as soon as complete and official results are announced.”

The party has the option to bring the independent candidates into its fold to secure the simple majority.

“Independents can jump the ship since it does not harm them,” Ali said, referring to a constitutional clause that allows the independent candidates to join any party in parliament.

However, he added, the PTI-backed independent candidates are unlikely to choose this option, considering the defeat of all PTI lawmakers who changed their loyalties and supported a no-confidence vote against Khan in April 2022.

Taking away PTI’s symbol “was an attempt to erase it as party and allow for post-election engineering through horse-trading,” said Anwar, the Islamabad-based legal expert.

“It remains to be seen if they (independents) are pressured but that would be difficult since people have overwhelmingly voted for PTI-backed independent candidates,” said the legal expert.

‘Respect people’s mandate’

Veteran lawmaker Mushahid Hussain Sayed agreed with Anwar’s point on forming a “government of national unity.”

However, Sayed called on political parties to “accept the election results unconditionally and respect the popular will and mandate of the people.”

He said the post-elections “opportunity” should be used “to give a healing touch to Pakistani politics,” pitching a “government of national unity to steer Pakistan from crises to consensus.”

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